THE RIDE: Four-door, five-passenger 2008 Mercury Mariner Premier 4WD SUV.
DOWN THE ROAD: Introduced in late 2004, the small-size Mariner undergoes a major transformation inside and out. The SUV offers more standard safety features while retaining its carlike handling and off-road capabilities. A new acoustic windshield laminate and additional sound-deafening materials result in a quieter and refined ride.
TECH & PERFORMANCE: The 3.0-liter V-6 engine develops 200 horsepower at 6000 rpm and 193 pounds-feet of torque at 4850 rpm. Mated to a 4-speed automatic transmission with overdrive is all-new electric power rack-and-pinion steering, which keeps maintenance costs low and improves fuel savings. A four-wheel independent suspension with MacPherson struts, coil springs and stabilizer bar in front and an independent double lateral and semi-trailing arm in the rear smooth out the ride. An 11.9-inch vented and rear disc brakes impress with their stopping abilities. If you wish to haul a trailer, the Mariner has up to 3,500-pound towing capacity.
LOOK & FEEL: The front fascia boasts a satin signature waterfall grille with a centered Mercury badge. The headlamps and tail lamps, jutting around the corners, as well as the integrated side repeater lamps and a chrome exhaust tip, will grab your attention. Satin pewter accents and chrome finish are used throughout the cabin. The two-tone leather and suede seats look classy. Atop the dashboard is a display for outside temperature, time, compass and date, which fall in the driver's vision. The center console, with its two removable bins, can handle a laptop and several personal items. Rear-seat passengers have access to two cupholders behind the console. At night, the new ice-blue light on the instrument panel, center console and door locks is attractive. The floor-mounted shifter knob offers a firm grip. There's plenty of storage space, including a hidden floor area in the cargo hold.
SAFETY FIRST: Mercury gets a pat on the back for making the side curtain airbag and rollover stability control standard in the 2008 Mariner. The SUV also is equipped with dual front and side airbags, four-wheel antilock brakes, traction control, tire pressure monitoring system and a rear-detection obstacle system.
OUT THE DOOR: $25,380, plus tax, tag, delivery and destination charges. The touch-screen navigation system with an in-dash 6 CD player, a first for the Mariner, is available for $1,995.
BY THE NUMBERS: Tires, P225/64R17; wheelbase, 103.1 inches; length, 175.2 inches; weight, 3,549 pounds; fuel capacity, 16.5 gallons; highway, 23 mpg; city, 19 mpg.
WHY DIG IT: If a carlike ride coupled with off-road capabilities is what you want, the Mariner will appeal to you. It's loaded with interior amenities that serve your needs and packs enough power to meet the challenges of the road.
Nitish S. Rele is an advertising staff writer for The Tampa Tribune.